I’ve traveled a lot this year. By the count of my travelogues, I’ve been on the go 19 times this year, not counting my year-end trip. Taken altogether, that’s a significant fraction of the year spent on the road. Hang on, let me count the days… I can’t. It’s a lot. Probably at least 4 months altogether.
But I couldn’t close out the year without one more time hitting the road. I agreed to speak at Big Data Conference Europe 2023 and was excited to get the chance to see a new city. I’d been wanting to visit the rest of the Baltics for some time (I visited Estonia a few years ago), and this was a perfect opportunity. So I buried myself in Google Slides, put together a talk or two, and hit the road.
The conference was fun. I had a couple coworkers also speaking there. I was only supposed to give one talk on Data Mesh, but due to unforeseen circumstances I had to step in to two other talks. I was happy to! I also volunteered to emcee one day, so I was on stage a lot. It was exhausting. But the city was worth it.
Vilnius is cool, man. The old town is great and the city is gorgeous. The weather was cool (my fellow conference-goers would say cold) but I was dressed well for it. We had a lovely speakers' dinner followed by a late night tour around the Old Town. Getting to Vilnius was irritating. While Air Baltic has a direct connection to Berlin, it wasn’t convenient, and it’s not exactly a Star Alliance partner and I was angling for Gold this year. So I took a horrible connection through Frankfurt. Landing midday, I opted to take the bus from the airport to my hotel. It costs one Euro, though for some reason the driver wouldn’t take my money, so I just huddled with my carryon tucked into a seat. As the bus got crowded, I found it a bit suffocating in my heavy winter coat, but I survived.
The great thing about working week conferences is having the weekend to spare. So I got up early Saturday and hopped on a Flixbus to Riga, thereby completing the set and knocking off the last country on my Baltics to-do. I had booked the Flixbus well in advance and took advantage of the option to book the adjacent seat. So I had a comfortable ride in 1A + 1B. The trip took four hours but didn’t feel like it. Driving through the charming Lithuanian snowscapes was enough to pass the time. I nodded off briefly, but not for that long. Thoroughly pleasant, I’ll take that trip again for sure.
But the highlight of my travels was Riga. At the conference, my coworkers, among them a well-traveled Welsh-Irishman and an Estonian in Barcelona, both lamented that Riga was hardly their favorite Baltic city. I was undeterred and happy to prove them wrong. Riga was amazing. A fresh blanket of snow had falled on the architecturally-charming city, and as I took my camera to a park to get a photograph at twilight, the lights came on and blessed me with a perfect winter scene.
![A snow covered park in Riga]("/photo-gallery/travel/2023/vilnius-riga/Bērnu rotaļu laukums Esplanāde.jpg")
I stopped to visit the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia to experience a bit more of the often-overlooked history and culture of the beautiful country. It wasn’t a happy museum, but it does harden one’s resolve to fight authoritarianism wheresoever it appears. One fun fact about the Baltics: it was the Singing Revolution that was the straw that broke the backbone of the Soviet Union.
Anyways, go ahead and check out my photos from Latvia and Lithuania.
I had not nearly enough time in Riga to fully enjoy the city, instead having to head back briefly to Berlin via Munich. I was excited to be home, as my best friend would be in town, but the time home hardly lasted. The next day I was on the road again, this time to Passau for a meeting.
Passau is proper far away. There are no easy ways there from Berlin, the best option being a flight to Munich and a two-and-a-half hour (!!) train ride to the border city. I was so far to the limits of Germany that my phone kept connecting to the Austrian cell network. Passau is a university town situated at the confluence of three rivers: the Inn, the Donau (Danube), and the smaller Ilz. Arriving via Regiobahn, I was hoping to catch a cab or at least an Uber from Hauptbahnhof to my hotel in the Altstadt. No such luck. Not even a scooter. So off I went in the snowy cold, marching through the medieval streets of the quaint Bavarian town with roller bag in tow. I made it, falling down only once the next day on the slippery steps between some old building or another. It was a nice city. I’ll be back in a few months.
Heading back to Hauptbahnhof to reverse course back to Berlin, I had a nice chat with the cabbie, an Albanian Kosovar who’d been in Berlin since the late 90s. We chatted in German about my recent trip to Pristina and I was happy to thank him at the end in Albanian. Sometimes Europe is fun. It was a nice way to close the year.